Sat, May 03, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Timberwolves can't keep Kobe quiet

BASKET CASEThe boy Bryant finished with 31 points to sink battling Minnesota and book a berth in the second round of the NBA playoffs alongside the Spurs

AFP , LOS ANGELES

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant reacts to a three-point shot during the fourth quarter of Game 6 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday in Los Angeles.

PHOTO:AP

Kobe Bryant collected 14 points in the final quarter and finished with 31 while Shaquille O'Neal scored 24 points as Los Angeles overpowered Minnesota 101-85 on Thursday to reach the second round of the NBA playoffs.

The three-time defending champion Lakers closed out the best-of-seven series in six games and advance to play the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs beat Phoenix 87-85 on Thursday to win their series 4-2.

Bryant caught fire in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 straight points and hitting six consecutive field goals for the Lakers who won their 13th straight playoff series dating back to 1999.

"It is funny when people say they can contain Kobe," said Bryant. "I can put the ball in the hole anytime I want to."

The Timberwolves, who had gained home-court advantage for the first time in team history, have never advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs.

The Lakers dominated the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Tuesday 120-90 after the teams split the first four games.

Kobe spent the final two minutes of Thursday's game on the bench with an ice pack on his right shoulder. He will have three days to rest the injured shoulder before they meet the Spurs in San Antonio on Monday. The Spurs won all four regular season games against the Lakers this season.

The Lakers shot 48 percent on Thursday as all five starters reached double figures for the second game in a row.

The Lakers took the lead for good 45-43 on a O'Neal hook shot with 1:05 left in the first half.

Los Angeles led by four points at halftime and by 69-63 at the end of the third quarter. They outscored Minnesota 28-9 over a nine-minute stretch to take a 67-50 lead at the 5:14 mark of the third quarter.

Kevin Garnett had 18 points and 12 rebounds and Troy Hudson scored 18 points for the Timberwolves

"I am disappointed," said Garnett. "We tested them a little bit but they turned it up when they had to and that is why they are the champions."

Garnett felt the turning point in the series was after game four when O'Neal criticized his teammates for not getting him the ball more often.

"When he started to make those statements about getting the ball that's when they took off," said Garnett. "They started to get into an offensive flow.

"He became a lot more aggressive and then everything went through the monster and it was over," he said.

O'Neal came close to collecting his second career triple-double on Thursday, registering nine assists to go with his 24 points and 17 rebounds.

"We put them away," said O'Neal. "We wanted to come out and play hard and focussed. I think Troy Hudson kept them in this series."

O'Neal scored 19 points in the first half including the first nine points of the game for Los Angeles.

On playing the Spurs, O'Neal said the Lakers secret to success is limiting their mistakes.

"I am not worried at all because in the games we have lost it is not what the other teams are doing to us but what we are doing to ourselves," said O'Neal. "This is a different year and we still have some work to do."

The Spurs got the job done against Phoenix, as Tim Duncan's smart passing in the fourth quarter led to a flurry of three-pointers that gave the Spurs a victory.

The top-seeded Spurs advanced to the conference semi-finals for the third straight season and they have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

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